Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Victory for Voters

A Victory for Voters
Tan Siok Choo

In the recently ended 12th general election, the biggest winner was the voters of Malaysia. Opposition parties’ concern about their inability to reach voters during the 13-day campaign period proved groundless. Sufficient numbers of Malaysians across the country heard the opposition parties’ call for change and voted decisively.

That voters in this country were able to cast their ballots freely and peacefully underscored the success of this country’s electoral process. And although the outcome in Penang, Kedah, Selangor and Perak was an unpleasant surprise for the Barisan Nasional (BN), the verdict of the people was accepted by the ruling coalition.

Several trends were notable in this general election. That the opposition parties collectively wrested control of Kedah, Penang, Perak and Selangor is unprecedented and reflects a major reversal in voter preference. In the past, voters tended to mark their ballots for BN at state level and for the opposition in parliamentary seats.

This time round, financial improprieties and abuses of power at local councils like Ampang, Petaling Jaya and Subang Jaya may have prompted voters to decide good governance should begin at municipalities because decisions at that level and in state houses have a far bigger impact on their everyday lives than those handed down in Putrajaya.

A case in point is BN candidate Roselinda Abd Jamil’s electoral failure. Perceived as a proxy for her father-in-law – the incumbent Port Klang state assemblyman, Datuk Zakaria Md Deros of "Istana Zakaria" fame – she was decisively rejected in favour of Keadilan’s Badrul Hisham Abdullah.

That Keadilan candidate Edward Lee succeeded in wresting PJ Selatan underscores the goodwill and name recognition he reaped by leading the campaign against the Gasing Hill development project as well as his attempts to ensure greater transparency in PJ.

Another notable feature was widespread disaffection among all ethnic groups with BN, particularly in Peninsular Malaysia’s west coast states. Although a detailed analysis has to be made to determine the reasons for the loss, a strong possibility is broad-based unhappiness over rising costs of living, an issue that impacted all ethnic groups. This suggests the growing primacy of bread and butter issues over insular ethnic drum-beating stuff.

Another possibility is public perception that the pace of stamping out corruption has slowed down. Admittedly, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has shortened significantly the time needed to obtain passports, ICs and driving licences, a development that should reduce opportunities for graft going forward.

To eradicate this misguided public perception, on-going high profile corruption cases and trials involving notable personalities must be prosecuted with greater vigour and legal competence. Instead of looking for scapegoats for electoral reverses, the BN should step up the pace of reform.

Furthermore, the BN may have been ill-served by the excessive self-censorship exercised by major print newspapers. If the watchdog is encouraged not to bark at intruders, how will a house owner know a thief has penetrated the coop and is on the brink of stealing his chickens?

Although the future seems promising, Keadilan, the DAP and PAS face several potential potholes. Despite their disparate political platforms, all three parties must demonstrate their ability to work together in governing Kedah, Penang, Perak and Selangor. Failure to do so will probably stymie their prospects of further electoral gains, particularly at state level.

Opposition parties should be mindful of past history. After the May 1969 general election, when BN’s predecessor, the Alliance, lost Penang and was stalemated in Selangor and Perak, the three-party ruling coalition was expanded to include the Sarawak Alliance and the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) and later Penang-based Gerakan and the Ipoh-based People’s Progressive Party (PPP).

Will a similar expansion take place this time round?

Another pointer for Opposition parties is the experience of Taiwan. In March 2000, President Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) succeeded in ending the then corruption-ridden Kuomintang’s political stranglehold on power in the island. With the DPP engulfed in corruption charges involving Chen’s wife and son-in-law, the Kuomintang looks set to regain power in presidential elections on March 22 this year.

What this suggests is the Keadilan, DAP and PAS have been given a golden opportunity to make inroads in BN’s political dominance. If they squander this opportunity and fail to live up to voter expectations, like Taiwan’s DPP, they are likely to be punished in the next general election.

Opinions in this article are the personal views of this writer and should not be attributed to any institution she is associated with. She can be contacted at schoo@noordinsopiee.com. Comments: feedback@thesundaily.com

Source: TheSun, Mon, 10 Mar 2008
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Tom Pell said...

What Mahathir said: "Race-based parties are still very relevant today, contrary to the popular notion that the results of the March 8 2008 election marked the rejection of race-based parties and their politics...theSun, November 13, 2008.

Malaysian Scandal Blog said...

In today theSun (December 19, 2008), Mubarak urged UMNO to take prompt action on complaints of money politics in the party elections. He said the UMNO disciplinary board had been slow to act on the complaints. By delaying the matter, the party would perceived by members and political observers as not serious (actually UMNO is not serious!) in wedding out political corruption and wants the issue to die down (if everybody is corrupted...)